Public Health Litigation: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Friday, April 17, 2020
Northeastern University 

In the 1990s, pioneering tobacco litigation revolutionized the use of litigation as a public health tool. Suing tobacco companies focused the public’s attention on a deadly public health epidemic, unearthed critical and shocking information through discovery, and changed the political dynamics regarding regulation. Over the past three decades, we’ve seen how litigation can also help change industry practices and, at least in theory, provide substantial funding intended to aid public health efforts. In the years since the Master Settlement Agreement to the multi-state tobacco litigation was reached in 1998, public health advocates, as well as states and municipalities, have sued gun manufacturers, fast food restaurants, e-cigarette companies and the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids, all with an eye to improving public health.

Despite its promise as a public health tool, affirmative public health litigation continues to face numerous obstacles and critiques. These include federal and state preemption, limitations on class actions and the very real question as to whether litigation can achieve effective public health changes. Critics also argue that courts lack the capacity to understand complex public health issues, that the tort system should aim to compensate injured parties rather than achieve social change and that affirmative public health litigation is inherently anti-democratic. Other critics argue that the interests of tort laws are frequently in conflict with those of the public.

Please join us in April as leading academics, activists and policymakers gather for this future-focused conference that will drill down into the possibilities and pitfalls of litigating in the public health context as we move forward.

Richard DaynardRichard Daynard, University Distinguished Professor of Law and president of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, is renowned for his role as one of the main architects of establishing the legal responsibility of the tobacco industry for tobacco-induced death, disease and disability. In conjunction with the 2020 Annual Health Law Conference, we will celebrate Professor Daynard’s 50-year career in legal education and pioneering work in this field.

Call for Papers

The Center for Health Policy and Law, in collaboration with the Northeastern University Law Review, seeks abstracts for papers to be presented at its 2020 health law conference, Public Health Litigation: Possibilities and Pitfalls 

Abstracts (250 words max) will be accepted until November 8, 2019. Please send to: with “2019 Call for Papers” in the subject line.  

Our Call for Papers announcement has additional details.